By David Meyer
January 3, 2019

President Donald Trump managed to elicit outrage in both Israel and India through his wide-ranging set of foreign policy assertions about Syria and Afghanistan.

At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump addressed his planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, which he abruptly announced a couple weeks back. He also expressed his displeasure at the U.S.’s continued involvement in Afghanistan.

On Syria, Trump maintained that Iran — a key supporter of the regime of Bashar al-Assad — was in the process of pulling its forces from Syria anyway. “They can do what they want there, frankly,” he said.

This horrified the Israelis, who fear Iran’s growing influence in the region. According to a “senior Israeli source” cited by local news outlet Ynet, Trump’s pronouncement showed “he isn’t paying attention to the evidence provided by the intelligence services.”

“We are in a state of shock,” the source reportedly added. “Trump simply doesn’t understand the extent of the Iranian military’s presence in the region. What is comforting is that at least Trump isn’t opposed to Israel’s operations in Syria.”

Trump’s assertion is particularly surprising given that he has made opposition to Iran one of the pillars of his Middle East policy, which involves providing support to Iran’s regional rivals, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has reportedly begged the White House to slow down its Syrian withdrawal.

Meanwhile, the president also addressed the U.S.’s ongoing presence in Afghanistan, complaining about its cost. He said countries from that region, including India, Russia and Pakistan, should be fighting the Taliban instead.

Trump particularly took aim at India, claiming: “I get along very well with India and Prime Minister Modi. But he is constantly telling me, he built a library in Afghanistan. Library! That’s like five hours of what we spend [in Afghanistan.]”

The Times of India reported pushback from “official sources” in India, who said libraries may be part of that country’s community development outlay in Afghanistan, but only a small part in comparison to the billions being spent on roads, dams and Afghanistan’s new parliament building.

One source told the paper: “India seeks to build capacities and capabilities of Afghan nationals and its institutions for governance and delivery of public service, develop socio-economic infrastructure, secure lives and promote livelihood.”

Trump also took the opportunity to claim that the Soviet Union had been “right” to invade Afghanistan in 1979, “because terrorists were going into Russia.” He added that the decade-long incursion had bankrupted the Soviets.

While it is true that the disastrous occupation contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union, that was more to do with wearing down the Soviet military and perceptions of its capabilities. From an economic standpoint, falling oil prices were much more of a factor in ending the Soviet Union. The Soviets also invaded Afghanistan to prop up the local communist regime, not to fight terrorism.

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